With the school year coming to a close, it is time for our wonderful students to be heading back home. The experiences and memories that they have gained while in the U.S. will stay with them a life-time. But our students are not the only ones who have been affected by the exchange experience.
Host Mom Michelle O’Brien has kept an on-going journal of her new “Danish daughter’s” exchange year and shared it with Ayusa! Below is the story of Marie’s exchange year along with a slideshow of pictures throughout the year. What a great year Marie and the O’Briens have had, one “that will continue for a lifetime.”
Our involvement with Ayusa has changed our lives. So has Marie, so has her family.
From moment our Danish Daughter, Marie, stepped off the plane we had a new family member. Her warm smile and sly sense of humor were evident pieces of her personality. She’s not been without them since. Adding these traits to our already crazy, loud family continues to delight us. She and our daughter, Madison, bonded almost instantly. They tease, joke, share fashion advice and play games like long lost sisters.
Winning friends at her new high school, playing basketball, softball, attending her first ever Homecoming dance, awards for her artistic abilities, being on the yearbook staff AND Prom Committee are just a few of the highlights Marie’s enjoyed over the last several months in Missouri. With a determination beyond her years, Marie is the ONLY foreign exchange student to ever be a member of the girl’s basketball team at Blue Eye High School. We are so proud of her! We’re not sure she’s stopped smiling about it yet.
A diligent student, Marie set her sights high. She carries one of the highest Grade Point Averages in the junior class and straight A’s are the norm on every report card. In April, Marie put her community service hat on and picked up trash along both sides of the road on the way to the high school. She also assists in filling the bags for the backpack program at school, providing weekend meals for kiddos and families who could use a helping hand.
Road trips to St. Louis, Kansas City and the Windy City made many memories for our family. Even as small as Denmark is, most Danes don’t do a lot of traveling by car. An hour seems a far distance, imagine an eight hour drive! But the first glimpse of the Chicago skyline at night was all it took for the road weary miles to fade away. We spent four glorious days in the Windy City, meeting extended family, dining out on Italian beefs, celebrating a friends 100th birthday party and doing a little shopping. Marie got to spend some time exploring the Field Museum and rode back in style to our sister’s downtown Chicago 27th floor apartment building, in her first limousine!
Halloween proved a unique, much anticipated adventure - one they don’t have in Denmark. While it was an exceptionally cold night, she was eager to experience everything the spook-tacular evening had in store. We all donned costumes in preparation. Marie’s choice was a throwback to the 1950’s. Complete with poodle skirt and saddle shoes she looked like Sandra Dee from Grease and braved the frigid temperatures to participate in her first ever Trunk or Treat at our local church. Not only did she help us decorate our trunk, she gave out candy to all the boys and ghouls and then got to take part in her own official U.S.A. “Trick or Treat.” Candy by the hand full was her reward. And how sweet it was for Marie because she didn’t have to sing for her sweets! In Denmark, a little song is required before treats are delivered. Of course we did make her sing it to us after all the festivities.
Big bonfires, parades, decorations, cheerleading and basketball ushered in the fall season for all of us. Marie’s first Thanksgiving celebration, turkey, Christmas in Chicago, cookie baking, snowfall, sledding and snow days off from school are all terrific memories we will cherish as a family forever!
And since food is one of the most important parts of our large Irish-Italian gatherings, Marie fits in perfectly. She’s a wonderful cook and bakes like a true master. We’ve so enjoyed savoring tasty treats from Denmark and Marie has introduced many friends to foods they never would have even considered trying. One fantastic “American” mixture Marie has fallen in love with is salty and sweet - French fries and ice cream are the hands-down winners! It’s a combo she’s vowed to take home to share with family and friends.
In January, Marie turned 17. As her host family, we were honored to celebrate this milestone with her. Friends from school and neighbors joined us for a party that’s still talked about today. She awoke to decorations strung across her bedroom door that made getting out of her room a bit of a challenge. That weekend, we lit the most spectacular bonfire EVER, just for her. We like to think of it as the biggest birthday candle on record! And that was just the beginning of the fun. Marie opted to make her own Danish birthday cake in the shape of a girl – the icing was delicious but the Danish candy that decorated every inch of her “girl” cake had everyone smacking their lips. Additionally, all guests were treated to Frickerdeller, a delectable Danish dish similar to a tiny meatloaf – we’ve loved it from the first time we tasted it so for Christmas, Marie designed T-shirts for all of us with a picture of a Frickerdeller on the front and the recipe on the back! So cool – the shirts also include some of our inside family jokes about Frickerdeller – funny and instructional, who could ask for a better T-shirt?
Spring Break found us in South Carolina visiting relatives. For Marie, the anticipation of walking on the beach held the most wonder. Cold as it was, both our girls braved the less than ideal temperatures to race into the surf. We, on the other hand, were not so eager to get our feet wet in the chilly water, choosing instead to take photos from the safety of the sand. We visited a former tea plantation, shopped, took a ferry ride out to Ft. Sumter (where the Civil War began), played tennis as a family (we’re very, very bad at it!), walked around Charleston, talked to Sweet Grass basket makers, ate the infamous She-Crab Soup (Yummy!) and had a total blast hanging out in the South – it was Southern charm at its finest.
Prom was Marie’s next great adventure and one that is purely American! They do not have Prom in Denmark so the anticipation of such a unique event has been amazing. We spent a “girl’s day” shopping for a Prom dress with laughter, fun and fashion as the themes for the day. After many trips in and out of the dressing room, the very last gown Marie tried on turned out to be “the one!” And what a dress it is. She’s stunning. The day before Prom Marie, along with two of her friends from the softball and basketball teams had her nails done followed by lunch at Branson Landing. Swanky! That evening, our whole family, along with the Prom Committee and a whole host of Blue Eye teachers descended on the Clarion Hotel in Branson to begin transforming a safari room to Blue Eye’s theme of Casino Royale. By midnight, the alterations were well underway and the artistry, hard work and imaginations of the Prom Committee converted safari to spectacular. Fairy lights, gorgeous feather center pieces, poker chip chocolates and gossamer adorned the walls, tables and opens spaces creating a magical, visual effect that delighted all 2015 Blue Eye Prom goers. We returned the following morning to further the transformation before leaving the enchanted room behind until the evening. Hair styling and makeup were a group effort in the hours before photos with Marie’s host sister, host best friend (and honorary daughter) and host mom lending a hand. The result was a Danish goddess in a hunter green dress that turned heads wherever we went. College of the Ozarks provided the ideal backdrop for pre-Prom photos – smiles, sparkle and stunning young people in formal dress added the final touch to the scenery, beautifying it even more! Then, looking like an ad straight out of Seventeen Magazine, the whole gorgeous group headed off for a tasty Italian dinner.
At the end of April, Ayusa hosted its re-orientation meeting for a final gathering of the foreign exchange students in the area. What a fun outing, Traci Clary and her team did a fantastic job. After we took care of business the group got the chance to play at Silver Dollar City, in Branson. Rollercoasters, screams, smiles, the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls and salt water taffy made the day a sweet memory. We couldn’t get to the next thrill ride fast enough although several members of our family stayed far away from the swings, preferring the high adrenaline rush of a heart pounding wooden coaster to high flying. An old time gangster photo of Marie and her host family is hard evidence of the just some of the entertainment enjoyed by all. We had the opportunity to hang out with some other Ayusa kiddos from Italy and Germany, dining on burgers and skillets, talking all about Prom, sharing pictures, funny stories as well as chatting about preparations for returning home. It was a good day!
With course finals on the calendar, the end of the school year is in sight. While we’re all looking forward to that, the thought of long, hot lazy summer days on the waters of Table Rock Lake is what we’re most excited about – and no one is more eager than Marie. Tubing, zip lining, cheesy Branson shows, a Kansas City Royals baseball game, wakeboarding, boat rides, swimming and just floating around soaking up some sun is the plan. For Marie, all of these experiences will be new and can’t come soon enough. Her little brother is already over the moon knowing he has someone to play baseball with when she returns home, imagine his surprise when he finds out she can wakeboard, too. Her sister, on the other hand, can’t wait for her to get home for very different reasons - to share hugs, experiences and new clothes...yes lots and lots of clothes!
What an amazing experience it has been, one that will continue for a lifetime, forever tying our hearts and our worlds together.
Our involvement with Ayusa has changed our lives. So has Marie, so has her family. What an amazing experience it has been, one that will continue for a lifetime, forever tying our hearts and our worlds together. Marie is our daughter – rounding our family to a six pack with two boys and two girls (plus Mom and Dad, of course). We can’t wait to see what other journeys the rest of our time together will send our way. You can bet that whatever it is, Marie and Madison, our favorite girls in the whole wide world, will be leading the charge…all we can say is watch out world!